It goes without saying that different people like different things. We all have these great little things called opinions that are unique to all of us. Despite the fact that some people pretend that they don’t exist, they very much do.
Somebody may really love action anime, but you just can’t stand it. That’s ok. I love Rom-Coms to death it back. You may not. And guess what, that’s ok. These differences in opinion are what make the world go round—that and money.
But there is perhaps no single genre with as many conflicting opinions as one. That is Isekai. “Otherworld,” quite literally. While the name isn’t very creative, the kind of tales you can tell within the genre is… when writers want to.
What series can actually be considered an Isekai is a little shakey, but generally, if the characters spend a majority of their time in a separate world from their own, that’s an Isekai.
Isekai isn’t a new thing. Stories similar have been told for a while. There’s a humorous thread on Reddit here, that names some old ones. Like it says, the Wizard of Oz is technically an Isekai. Strange, but true.
I don’t know the first anime Isekai or the first Isekai in general, and I bet it would be pretty difficult to find an answer to either of those questions, especially since Isekai is a fairly new term. We haven’t been saying that forever. In fact, its use really started to pick up in the last decade. Why is that?
Well, because also in the last decade, the “otherworld” genre has exploded in popularity. It used to not even really be a genre, and in just a few years, people are already sick of it. And it’s kind of hard to blame them.
We get a handful of Isekais every single season, and that’s just because authors can’t stop writing light novels about them. They love the stuff. Last season alone has around 6, I believe, and you know we’re getting more. The funny thing is this trend didn’t even start because of an Isekai. It started from something kind of like an Isekai.
The anime everyone loves to hate, Sword Art Online, is a big reason we see a lot of Isekais still going strong, and it wasn’t even an Isekai! The characters were trapped in a video game. Their bodies were still in the real world, slowly dying from a lack of nutrition. They weren’t in another world. It was like an extended dream.
People have a few problems with SAO. Maybe more than a few, some deserved, some not. Still, it isn’t the worst anime ever by a long shot. Not great, but not repulsive as people tend to say. It’s just pretty ok, with a few questionable choices made along the way.
Despite your personal thoughts, SAO started the novel Isekai craze, which in turn started the anime Isekai craze that we are still feeling the ripples from today. So you can at least like SAO for that, though I think many who hated SAO probably doesn’t like Isekai either. Now you’ve got another reason not to like it, then.
A lot of Isekai’s odder trends can be attributed to it. Like the fact that pretty much every Isekai features some sort of skill system, takes place in a fantasy world, and often resembled video games in some ways. Funny how that came full circle. You can also say it made bland overpowered protagonists a trend as well, but there are always some exceptions.
I personally like Isekais a lot. I think they tend to be blander on average more than other genres, but it’s really good when one is done right. I love Tensura to death. Sheild Hero was pretty solid. Konosuba is a gift to humanity. And despite it being a bit of an odd Isekai, The Devil is a Part-Timer is wonderful, and I’ll use this as another chance to shout my joy we’re getting season 2!
When Isekai is done right, it has the potential to be one of, if not the most interesting genre anime has. There are just so many things you can do with the concept of taking a character and putting them in another world. It opens up infinite possibilities.
All of the series I mentioned are very different but equally good. One is about a middle-aged man getting stabbed to death before becoming a slime and teaching the people and monsters of the new world to love each other. One is about satan working at McDonald’s. One is about a band of misfits, including, but not limited to, a goddess and a masochist. And the other is about a hero disgraced by the world with only a shield to his name.
All very different series, but each one has something great to offer. Even last season’s I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level (or Slimicide, as I call it) is a fun slice of life take on having an overpowered character in another world. There are so many ways you can take it!
Rom-Coms, oh how dearly I love them, there’s really only so many different ways you can make them. While Love is such a complex theme, eventually, you’re going to hit similar territory to other series. And there are really only so many ways you can make people laugh, though sometimes I think I’m too easy.
Every genre has its own limitations. Everything has its limitations, really. But Isekai has far fewer. The genre is all about other worlds. You’re allowed to create an entire world from the ground up, one that doesn’t need to follow our rules. The sky’s the limit! But that comes with its own problems. Why even make it an Isekai?
If you want to create a whole living, thriving world, what the point of making it an Isekai in the first place? Why insert a character in a different world? Just make the new world and focus on the characters within it. That’s why all the best Isekais take advantage of what makes the genre what it is.
Why is Tensura great? Because Rimuru is an intelligent character that uses his knowledge from his past life to make it in the new world. Shield Hero is good because it plays with our expectations of the genre and gives us a character not worshipped by the masses. Konosuba, because it constantly pokes fun at Isekais in general. And finally, Devil is a Part-Timer has satan and McDonald’s. Need I say more?
I think it says a lot that many of the Isekais that people like is anime that pokes fun or changes the genre in some way. If anything, it shows that people are getting bored of what it has to offer, and that’s really a shame.
I’ll always like Isekais. They’re like comfort food. You know what to expect. I’ll see some guy get hit by a truck, and suddenly I’m introduced to a whole new world of video game magic. I think writers just need to take a few steps back and remember what it is that makes the genre special in the first place, rather than trying to jump on a trend.
When I write, be that stories or these posts, I try hard to bring out what makes the particular topic special. I try and focus on what that topic does that nothing else can. For a story, I hammer down and add points that help the main topic. For reviews, I discuss what I feel the thing I’m reviewing did the most unique.
I think really getting those points down makes a better product overall. A good Isekai comes from having characters who remember where they came from and use that in the new world. It’s from them using their past lives to affect their views in their new one. It’s from showing that they are, in fact, otherworlders.
Whether that comes from a slime using his knowledge of Earth to create monster society, or from a girl that just wants to take things easy after quite literally working her life away.
Isekai has so much potential. It can tell stories in ways that no other genre can for the simple fact that they can have characters like no others can. Writers just need to start taking advantage of what their stories can really do. Isekais aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
You’ll still have your bad Isekais every now and then, but I would say we’re getting a lot of solid ones on average. And really, as writers continue to figure out what does and doesn’t work, we’ll continue to see even more takes on the genre, and they’ll keep getting better and better. You have to remember, Isekai is still fairly young, and everything needs time to grow.
Thank you very much for reading
What do you think about the future of Isekais, and where would you like to see them go? I’d say I summed up my thoughts already. Isekais are a bit of a mixed bag, but I believe we’ll see a lot of good ones popping up.
This Post Has 2 Comments
What I always feel makes stuff like Tensura a cut above is the role playing aspect. Seriously, for how many isekai are set in RPG fantasy ‘verses, you’d think more isekai protagonists would have personalities like you’d develop over extended gameplay sessions rather than stoic-badass-meets-harem-protags.
On a similar note I have no idea why so many isekai stories these days have to take place in the most generic game fantasy worlds imaginable. IRL there’s games like Xenoblade, the SMT series, Trails, and Mother, all of which take place in vastly different settings from the bog-standard medieval fantasy that hasn’t really been “in” since RPGs got their start. For a genre named after the worlds it explores, you’d think more varied settings would dominate the meta-game.
Agreed. That’s a great point. It feels like isekai is kind of stuck in the past in a way like the genre desperately needs to move forward instead of doing the same thing over and over. I do have hope that will be the case, particularly because of some recent series, but it is such an odd thing when I really think about it.